Remembering Gerry Rafferty

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
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For me, music evokes a time and a place which creates my own playlist. I was thinking of my playlist on the one year anniversary of musician Gerry Rafferty’s death. Rafferty’s heyday was throughout the 1970s as a member of the band Stealers Wheel and later, as a solo artist. He wasn’t a household name. Rather, his voice was woven into Americana much like his more popular contemporaries like The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John or Billy Joel.

If you still don’t know Rafferty, you would know Rafferty’s voice if you heard it. Whether you’re shopping for grapes at Publix or in the dental chair, that golden voice emanates from the speakers whenever his hit singles are played. “Yeah, that’s ‘what’s his name,’” you might say as the root canal proceeds. “But, who is it? John Lennon perhaps?”

When I first heard Rafferty singing the Stealers Wheel hit, “Stuck in the Middle With You,” I thought it could have been Lennon or one of the former Beatles out with a tune. My childhood ears didn’t know any better. I would soon realize that “Stuck in the Middle With You” was released when I was in kindergarten, so it was far from being a “new tune” when I “discovered” that song. I didn’t know the lead singer’s name of “Stuck in the Middle With You,” but I had a lot of fun playing with the lyrics and replacing them with derogatory words directed at some of my teachers.

I wouldn’t know that it was Rafferty who sang “Stuck in the Middle With You” for a few more years — until he released his second solo album City to City which brought his name to the forefront on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 weekly syndicated radio program and on scores of radio stations throughout the world. The LP was burning up the pop charts with the hit single “Baker Street” during the summer that I was entering the sixth grade. I will never forget that the single was constantly playing during my family’s trip to Washington, D.C. and the Shenandoah Valley area. We got to see the usual suspects when visiting the nation’s capital: the White House, The U.S. Mint and The U.S. Senate. We even had the chance to meet our then-U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum. Still, that Rafferty song was etched in our minds throughout all of those events. Thinking back on that trip, it was the last time our family was completely together. My oldest sister Amy was ready to go to The University of Toledo in the fall and in subsequent years, she pretty much never returned home to the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs.

About one month after our Washington trip, my father and I drove Amy to a freshman orientation in Michigan. We traveled the lower part of the state during that trip visiting places like Lansing and Flint. “Baker Street” was still a part of our car’s soundtrack at that time.

In the autumn of 1978, I helped my dad bring more of Amy’s personal belongings from home to her dorm room in Parks Tower. Rafferty’s second City to City single “Right Down The Line” became a big part of those back and forth trips to Parks Tower.

Those two songs went to the back of my collective memory. Years later, when I was in college I wondered what became of Rafferty from time to time. In the record stores, I found out that Rafferty recorded a decent follow-up to City to City titled Night Owl and then several other projects. As the years went on, I learned that the Scottish musician became more of a recluse, burnt-out from life on the road. Just when I least expected it, Rafferty passed away in January 2011 from liver failure after years of dealing with alcoholism.

When thinking of Rafferty, I get a sense of euphoria and sadness. The musician provided me and perhaps millions of others with a lifetime of joy from his compositions. And even though I never personally knew the man, I’m sad that such a great talent suffered so much. On this one year anniversary of Gerry Rafferty’s death, I purchased City to City on iTunes. I learned that this masterpiece knocked the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack off of the U.S. pop charts – perhaps the beginning of the end for disco, which I found to be pretty obnoxious at the time. But now, I can enjoy this man’s great music any time and for that, I am grateful.

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